VINTON–Dr. Richard Turner will be retiring from his position as principal of William Byrd High School at the end of June. He has served as principal for 17 years–since 1999–and as assistant principal for seven years before that.
He comes from a family of educators—his mother was a teacher. His father served as principal at Northside High School. Turner graduated from Northside himself and went on to earn a degree from Virginia Tech in Career and Technical Education (CTE) in 1982.
He started his career in Roanoke City teaching marketing classes at William Fleming High School and then moved to the county in 1988 to coordinate the marketing programs for all the high schools.
His abiding passion for marketing education and CTE programs has put William Byrd on the national map with the High Schools That Work (HSTW) program and defines his legacy at WBHS.
Last year, Senator Tim Kaine praised William Byrd and its HSTW model of instruction on the floor of the Senate as they considered an amendment to insure that “students are ready for postsecondary education and the workforce.”
Turner says that WBHS was struggling in the early 1990’s. Hundreds of students were enrolled in low-level courses with some graduating “not ready for work or college.” The school sought the input of local business leaders in implementing a new program “that would lead to students prepared for both jobs AND further education.”
The HSTW concept was adopted with Turner and teachers Betty Semones and Billy Meador at the helm. Bob Patterson was principal and delegated responsibility for the program to Turner because of his marketing education background.
The HSTW program changed the high school fundamentally.
A One Day Registration program is an integral part of HSTW. Parents are invited on conference day to partner with guidance counselors and teacher/advisors to set goals and choose classes for the upcoming year and a plan of study which guides course selection throughout the student’s high school career.
“High Schools That Work has driven our advancements at Byrd,” said Turner. “It is so ingrained that it is part of almost every program here.”
The Service Learning Leadership classes which encourage community service grew out of the HSTW model along with the Air Force JROTC program, work-based learning which permits students to work part-time, computer technology, and expanded CTE business and marketing classes.
“Dr. Turner has been the most supportive and encouraging principal we could ask for,” said marketing teacher Jill Morris. “He has been very supportive of all of our programs at Byrd, but especially our CTE programs. He has continued to provide numerous opportunities to show off our Marketing and Business Program at WBHS.”
“He has continually encouraged all of his teachers to attend conferences in order to continue to gain knowledge and stay current in educational trends,” said Morris. “He always wanted his teachers to be on the cutting edge when it came to educational practices.”
“Because of Dr. Turner’s background in marketing, he worked very hard at building relationships between William Byrd High School and businesses,” added Morris. “High Schools That Work was one of his initiatives that helped to foster these relationships. He is always looking for opportunities for businesses to partner with teachers and projects at WBHS.”
Turner has been instrumental in the establishment of many programs which have become part of the fabric of the school—the Air Force JROTC program, the Ham Radio Club, student involvement with the Vinton Relay for Life cause, establishment of the Specialty Center for Marketing, and participation in the Commonwealth Scholars program.
Turner turned a bout with colon cancer in 2007 from a negative to a positive for himself, the school, and community. As a cancer survivor, he “felt so blessed and thankful” that he began working with Relay for Life in order “to give back,” recruited by Chairs Don and Carolyn Williams. His involvement led to the school’s involvement.
“From the time we with others brought Relay for Life to Vinton, Dr. Turner was one of our biggest supporters,” said Carolyn Williams. “Nine years ago Don and I met with him about using the Robert Patterson Stadium for the event and his response was ‘whatever you need is yours’. That, of course, not only included the field but rooms for committee meetings, the cafeteria for Kick off and/or Wrap-Up Celebrations. He also encouraged his faculty and students to take part and it would have been almost impossible without them.”
“The students along with JROTC cadets have been our work-horses and legs each year in setting up and tearing down Relay,” continued Williams. “Thank you is not a big enough word and he will be missed by Vinton Relay for Life, William Byrd High School, and the community that he is so proud of. Dr. Richard Turner is not only a cancer survivor–he is our friend. “
“Richard has been a passionate voice for the American Cancer Society,” said Mark Hurley, ACS Senior Market Manager for Community Engagement. “As a volunteer and survivor, Richard continues to advocate for ACS and has been instrumental to the success of the Vinton Relay for Life by helping to provide William Byrd as a location for the event since its beginning. We know how much the Terriers will miss Richard, but we look forward to his continued involvement in the fight against cancer. “
Turner serves as Chairman of the ACS Leadership Council and was named the Relay for Life Principal of the Year in the region in 2010.
“Everyone knows how much Dr. Turner loves Virginia Tech, but he has also served as Chairman of the Parents Council at James Madison University and continues to serve in different capacities at JMU,” said Morris.
His involvement came about when his children were students there. He and his wife Tina, assistant principal at Hidden Valley High School, joined the JMU Parents Council, eventually becoming the Chairs.
His lifelong interest in racing, added to connections with Relay and JMU coalesced when he was introduced to Ron Devine owner of BK Racing and a member of the Board of Visitors at JMU. Their mutual interests led to the development of a partnership with the American Cancer Society at the Martinsville race in March 2015.
His interest in amateur “ham” radio led to the establishment of an award winning club at WBHS. He championed the establishment of the county’s only JROTC program at William Byrd.
Senior Master Sergeant Paul Richardson who retired last year as the Aerospace Science Instructor for the JROTC program said, “I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive boss. The cadets were never in any doubt that he thought well of them and appreciated all that they did for the school.”
Although he is retiring as principal, Turner will not be leaving Roanoke County Schools just yet. In August he will begin working as a liaison between the school system and local industries partnering to develop programs which prepare students to be “job-ready and opportunity-ready” when they graduate.
His wife says that “Richard adores WBHS, Vinton, and the entire community. The people of Vinton are more than just a community–they are part of his family.”
Thousands of students will look back at their Black Swan yearbooks in the future and smile at the slogan he adopted for the school and believes in wholeheartedly: “Accept only the best at WBHS.”